Posted by: James Wapotich | August 24, 2013

Trail Quest: Perspectives on Goleta Slough

Historically, Goleta Slough was part of a series of wetlands that extended west to Devereux Slough and covered roughly 1,150 acres. Topographically the slough is the central feature of Goleta Valley, which itself is a large basin bordered to the south by More Mesa and the mesa where UCSB and Isla Vista are located. The mesas were uplifted over time by More Ranch Fault, which parallels the north side of the mesas.

Up until the early 1860s the slough was deep enough for ships to anchor in, and was often described as a lagoon. In fact the City of Goleta takes its name from la goleta, which is Spanish for the schooners that used to anchor there.

During the winter of 1861-1862 the region experienced unusually heavy storms. These storms combined with the cumulative impact of cattle ranching in the area and recent drought and wildfire set the stage for heavy flooding and sedimentation. As the waters receded the capacity of the slough was substantially reduced.

Tecolotito Creek Goleta Slough day hike trail UCSB

Tecolotito Creek is seen in a view towards the airport from North Bluff Trail

Encroaching development culminating with the construction of Santa Barbara Airport and Ward Memorial Boulevard further reduced the slough’s size. Today Goleta Slough covers just 430 acres and is managed by California Department Fish and Game as the Goleta Slough Ecological Reserve.

Goleta Slough is also rich in native history. At the time of European contact there were four Chumash villages, referred to as rancherias by the Spanish, located in and around the lagoon. The two largest villages were Helo and S’apxili.

Helo was located on the top of what is now called Mescaltitlan Island, near the mouth of the slough. The island covered 64 acres, was about 160 feet high, and dotted with oaks. At the time, the village was separated from More Mesa by nearly a quarter mile of open water. The Chumash used their wood plank canoes or tomols and tule reed boats to access the island. The island takes its name from when the Spanish visited the area in 1769 during Portola’s expedition and were reminded of a similar island in Mexico of the same name.

The village of S’apxilil was located near where Hollister and Fairview Avenues now intersect.

Two other villages near the slough were Heli’yuk, near where UCSB is now located, and ‘Alkash near the eastern end of the slough. Collectively these four villages had a population of roughly 2,000 people and represented one of the more populous areas in the region at the time.

While there is no single trail that leads through or around the slough, there are a number of different routes that one can take to view the slough from a variety of perspectives.

The best place to start is from Goleta Beach County Park. The 29-acre park is located off of Sandspit Road, which can either be accessed from South Fairview Avenue via Fowler Road and Moffett Place, or from State Route 217 by taking the Sandspit Road Exit. The park is open from 8:00 AM to sunset, and parking is free.

The parking area at Goleta Beach stretches along the coast for about a quarter mile in either direction from the park entrance. From the eastern end of the parking area it is a short walk to the mouth of the slough.

The mouth of the slough is the terminus of a 47 square mile drainage basin that includes Tecolotito, Carneros, San Jose, Atascadero, Maria Ignacio and San Antonio Creeks and is home to a variety of wildlife.

From the entrance to Goleta Beach County Park one can hike north and east along Obern Bike Path. The route follows Atascadero Creek and passes near where the Chumash village of ‘Alkash was located.

For this route, from the park, follow Obern Bike Path as it crosses Tecolotito Creek and continues along Atascadero Creek. The route passes to the east of Mescaltitlan Island. At about the quarter-mile mark the trail crosses San Jose Creek; here one can find a social trail on their right that leads down to the edge of Atascadero Creek and eventually rejoins the bike path.

At about the .75-mile mark, Atascadero Creek transitions from a broad channel to a narrow, woody creek. Obern Bike Path continues alongside the creek and at the 1.5-mark crosses Patterson Avenue, which can make for a good return point. The Patterson Bridge over Atascadero Creek offers an unobstructed view of the creek. Here one can also find parking.

Another route from Goleta Beach that offers views of the slough is Fairview Bike Path, which crosses the slough’s wetlands and continues north towards Santa Barbara Airport. From the park entrance continue west along Coast Route Bike Path. The bike path soon branches with Coast Route continuing to the left up towards UCSB and Fairview Route continuing to the right, towards Goleta.

Fairview Bike Path crosses over Tecolotito Creek offering views to the west across the slough towards the mesa where UCSB is located. At about the quarter-mile mark, where the trail meets Moffett Place, one can find three interpretative signs installed by the City of Santa Barbara describing the history and wildlife of the slough.

The bike route continues north, to the west of Mescaltitlan Island, following Moffett Place and Fowler Road. At the one-mile mark the route arrives at the airport viewing area just past the main entrance to the airport. Here one can find three interpretative signs installed by the City of Santa Barbara describing the history of the airport. The signs are across from the World War II Memorial.

The airport dates back to 1928 when a cattle pasture near Hollister and Fairview Avenues was first used as a landing strip. In 1931 hangars were added and in 1941 Santa Barbara voters approved the purchase of the privately operated airport. During World War II, the airport was used as a Marine Corp Air Training Base, and was turned back to the city after the war. Much of the land from Mescaltitlan Island was removed and used to fill in the slough for the construction of the airport and later Ward Memorial Drive,

A hike along the North Bluff of UCSB can also be reached from Goleta Beach and offers views out across the slough and towards the airport. Starting from the western end of the parking lot continue along the bike path as it makes a short climb onto the campus mesa. The route offers some nice views out towards Campus Point.

Just past Henley Gate, where State Route 217 transitions into Mesa Road, cut north across the road onto a small grassy area. There is no trail here, but continuing northwest one quickly arrives at what looks like a small pull out for maintenance parking. At the far end of the pullout one can find an unsigned footpath, which is the beginning of North Bluff Trail.

The trail follows the edge of the campus mesa and immediately offers views to the north and east out across the slough and towards the airport. The trail continues along Mesa Road, before then dropping down the front of the mesa towards the edge of the slough area. The trail passes through oaks before then joining an access road that eventually leads back up to Mesa Road. Just before the access road reaches Mesa Road, it branches with a short trail on the left leading up to an overlook, which can make for a good return point. The overlook is near the intersection of Mesa Road and University Plaza, near Campbell Hall. The trail can also be reached from the UCSB Campus. The hike from Goleta Beach to the lookout is about 1.5 miles roundtrip.

Regardless of how far you hike there’s an opportunity to reflect on the changes the slough has seen over the years.

This article originally appeared in section A of the August 24th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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